There are a number of important floral traditions in anglophone countries – and indeed in the rest of the world. People often say with flowers what they would be unable to communicate with words. With that in mind, here are several of the most commonly observed floral traditions in the United Kingdom and the USA.
Flowers play a large part in traditional weddings in the United States and the UK. The bride typically carries a bouquet of their favorite flowers down the aisle before throwing it to waiting revelers.
The origins of this tradition are thought to be Roman. Roman brides would carry pungent bunches of herbs with them during marriage ceremonies. It was not until the 19th century that the modern tradition became formalized.
Queen Victoria, marrying her cousin Albert, carried with her a bouquet of snowdrops. These were the prince’s favorite flowers and were seen as the Queen’s tribute to her new husband. Queen Victoria was an extremely influential monarch, which led to brides all over the anglophone world adopting custom wedding bouquet traditions.
The Victorian Era also saw the introduction of the lily as a flower displayed and exchanged at funerals. Indeed, the Victorians were a rather morbid bunch. Death was incorporated into everyday symbolism and discussed openly. This may partly be because of the awful conditions of the day and partially have emerged as a sort of spiritual backlash to the emergence of the new industrial world.
Funeral traditions were formalized during this time. Lilies, it was said, represented the innocence of the deceased and the departure of their soul from their earthly body. Lilies are still the most popular flowers at funeral ceremonies in the United Kingdom and the United States of America.
Lilies are also symbols of death in non-anglophone countries. In mainland China, for instance, the association is strong. It is quite possible that orientalism played a part in the transference of lily traditions from China to Britain in the Victorian Era. Victorian high society was obsessed not only with death but also with the tokenistic worship and theft of Eastern aesthetics.
Flowers have long been symbols of compassion and empathy. The Victorian era (surprise, surprise) saw the emergence of flowers as a popular expression of sympathy given to a person when bedbound. These days you can order Get Well flowers for same day delivery and pick up special bouquets geared towards compassion from your local florist.
In some theatrical traditions, audience members have been known to leave flowers at the feet of performers after a show as a mark of appreciation. This tradition originates in ballet, where lead female dancers are still expected to receive a bouquet of flowers on opening night.
The Royal Ballet in England even has a ‘flower fund’ to provide floral gifts to dancers that have not been gifted an opening night bouquet. Floral traditions were quickly adopted in other areas of theatre and dance. Audience members will sometimes leave a single rose at the feet of a performer as a way of thanking them.